What’s Left? Who’s Left?

If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution is a quote long attributed to anarcho-communist activist, Emma Goldman. Taken up by some on the modern U.S. left as a catchphrase against artless bureaucratic organizing, the slogan has also been the organized American left’s feint at indicating concern for cultural matters. In point of fact, the saying brings to attention the organized U.S. left’s impoverishment when it comes to cultural output and appreciation for the arts.

On January 9th, 2005, I wrote a web log post titled The Gates: Good For Nothing, in which I castigated the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and ridiculed their Gates project as nothing more than a multi-million dollar art boondoggle. I was careful to quote the two con-artists, believing that their own words would expose them: “We do not create messages. We do not create symbols. We create works of art. All works of art are good for nothing.” That statement is unquestionably hostile to the artists who have over the years made contributions to the process of social change, so it might come as a surprise to some that one radical left organization, the maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), published a tract praising The Gates and the pair who created them. Artist Dred Scott wrote the article, Remembering The Gates, for the May 1st 2005 edition of the RCP’s newspaper. In his article, Scott said the following:

“Christo and Jeanne-Claude have confidence in ordinary people’s ability to grasp and enjoy contemporary art - at least the kind of work that they make. And their confidence is well founded. A million people saw ‘The Gates’ and clearly the overwhelming majority who saw it enjoyed the work and grasped the essence of it.”

Since the artists themselves made it clear that “all works of art are good for nothing” and that The Gates have no meaning - just what is this “essence” Scott thinks people have grasped? Again, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were quoted as saying, “The Gates, we don’t do it for the people, we do it for us.” Scott went on to write, that:

“Art like ‘The Gates’ is a harbinger of what is possible when artists dare to dream the impossible and then make their dreams real. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are artists with real heart. They push the envelope, even their own envelope, of what art can be. ‘The Gates’ expanded new ground for art.”

That’s quite a statement coming from a party that has long upheld Chairman Mao’s “correct line” pertaining to culture and art. In his Selected Works, Vol. III - Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, Mao wrote the following:

“In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics.”

Scott and the RCP can try to reconcile Mao’s views with Christo’s publicity stunt, but the attempt smacks of opportunism to me. In a quest to become culturally relevant, the RCP set out to do what every elite art magazine, fawning postmodernist dilettante and corporate news commentator has already done - give a stamp of approval to The Gates.

And just who is this Dread Scott? His claim to fame was a 1989 installation piece titled What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, created while he was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. The school publicly exhibited the installation which consisted of nothing more than an American flag placed on the ground in front of a ledger - with viewers encouraged to step on the flag in order to write their comments in the book. I didn’t like the piece then and I like it even less today - since I’ve developed an extremely low tolerance for postmodern antics designed to generate publicity for careerist artists.

Scott and Christo are birds of a feather, they share the same artistic philosophy despite one being a communist and the other a capitalist. Both have abandoned skill, craft, and time honored techniques in favor of blatant pranksterism. In this topsy turvy world they are considered revolutionaries - while I’m chastised as a reactionary for refusing to put aside my “old fashioned” paint brushes and canvases. Be that as it may I’m not too worried, because as someone famous once said: “History will absolve me!”

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